27 People Investigated for Weird Illustrations in Chinese Primary School Math Textbooks


If there is a category of books that deserve stringent proofreads and quality checking, it would definitely be children’s storybooks and textbooks.

At least, that is what you assume until you see what happened to the illustrations in a series of Primary School Mathematics textbooks.

Illustrating The Problem

On Monday (22 Aug), China’s Ministry of Education (CMOE) reported that People’s Education Press (PEP) are being investigated for illustration problems in their Primary School Mathematics textbooks.

27 people, including the President of PEP, have been detained for questioning.

The report pointed out three problems: the illustrations were unsightly, did not conform with usual standards, and they were not drawn in a meticulous or precise manner.

Curiously enough, the CMOE did not discover any embezzlement issues or find anyone who used their position for economic profit among the PEP-related staff members, illustration team, syllabus compiler and editor, and the general arts advisor.

Due to the some sexually suggestive and strange illustrations that were present within the series of primary school mathematics textbooks published by PEP, it attracted strong condemnation from the netizens in May.

Image: zaobao.com.sg

This stirred the public’s attention, and they started reviewing the material as well.

Shortly thereafter, the CMOE established an investigation team to look into the matter.

Results of the Investigation

According to the investigation report that CMOE published on their official website on Monday, the CMOE has investigated the relevant personnel, reviewed the original materials, listened to the expert opinions from the fields of maths, ideological and political education, and arts, and consulted front-line mathematics and arts teachers.

Upon investigating, three problems were found in the illustrations.

Firstly, it was not aesthetically pleasing, and it did not conform with Mortality Education standards at all. The art style did not reflect the popular aesthetics, the characters were ugly by comparison, their mental outlook was less than stellar, and it did not properly show the sunny image of Chinese children.

Second of all, the drawings were not standardised and almost every illustration had its flaws. Not only were there too many illustrations, but they were also poorly drawn, and there were scientific and normative issues mixed in.

Thirdly, it was not drawn in a precise or meticulous manner, and many illustrations were easy to misconstrue. Some of the illustrations were crudely drawn, to say nothing of some of the line art and colour scheme selections

Additionally, the images were disproportionate and uncoordinated.

The problems that were pointed out by the netizens, such as how some of the illustrations were not suited for a mathematics textbook, were also included in the comprehensive investigation and rectification.

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According to the report, PEP failed to establish a central and comprehensive decision-making department as an education-based publishing house, it was not thorough, and it did not fully understand the educational function of textbook illustrations.

The selection of the illustrators and authors were irregular and not robust in the least, the three-review process was not strict or rigorous, the content editing was not perfected, the readers’ opinion was not treated with gravitas it deserved, and the illustrations were not properly appraised and rectified in a timely manner.

That’s a mouthful, indeed.

The three-review process (三审三校) refers to the three types of review after every completed draft before publishing.

The review of the first draft is done by the in-house editor, who edits and corrects the work by roughly browsing over the contents. Their job is to ensure that there is no problem with the basic writing (grammar, sentence structure, etc) of the work.


The second review is done by an external party who is an expert in relevant fields. These people are usually professors, teachers, or renowned figures in their professional circles, who possess a deep understanding on the topic. Therefore, they are in charge of auditing the core content, the lines of reasoning and thesis presented in the work.

The final review is completed by the publishing house’s Editor-in-Chief or Managing Editor, who will lead the formatting process, scrutinise the content for the last time, and ensure that there are no printing errors.

In short, PEP failed at every step of the way. Despite the flaws that marred most pages of the textbook, PEP chose to publish it anyway.

CMOE noted that when PEP gathered the experts to examine the teaching materials, they did not give the experts sufficient instructions and their supervision was lacking.

Furthermore, the inspection of the teaching materials barely helped to rectify and improve the contents, and the entire project was poorly managed in terms of time.

Worst, no one noticed the errors made by the PEP-related personnel, authors, and illustrators.


However, the report pointed out there were no discoveries of transactions for personal financial gain between the relevant personnel at PEP, the illustrator Wu Yong, and the general consultant Lu Jingren, who oversaw the overall design and art of the textbook.

The Consequences

In accordance with the regulations, the CMOE is carrying out strict investigations and questioning against 27 people for their professional negligence.

The upper management of PEP shall be reformed, and a notice of criticism has been circulated within the industry.

The party committee secretary and president of PEP Huang Qiang has been given a serious warning and marked down with a record of major demerit.

The chief editor and party committee scribe Guo Ge has been given a serious warning and record of major demerit, and he has been dismissed from his position.


The person-in-charge of the editorial office for the primary school mathematics textbook has been given a serious warning and marked down with a record of serious demerit and dismissed from their post.

The other 17 people were disciplined accordingly and will be dealt with by their organisation.

Concurrently, the illustrators and designers have been dealt with. Their studios will no longer be able to engage in national textbook designs, illustration drawings and other related works.

New Illustrations and Additional Reviews

The CMOE also declared that it will uphold and strengthen the Chinese Communist Party’s (CPP) overall leadership over teaching materials, and continuously improve and implement the necessary systems for the preparation, review, use, maintenance, and supervision of teaching materials to ensure that the manufacturing of textbooks will always adhere to the correct political and ethical orientation.

Additionally, the primary school mathematics textbook published by PEP in May will have its illustrations redrawn. The new textbooks will be available by this September, just before the new school term commences.

Image: PEP WeChat

For the illustrative work, the PEP entrusted a third-party organisation with prestige to select the illustration team in a stringent manner.

Three out of ten shortlisted teams were chosen, and after a round of discussion, the version presented by the Central Academy of Fine Arts’ professional team was chosen.

Before re-illustrating the textbook, the PEP solicited opinions and suggestions from arts and education experts, be it front-line teachers and other relevant parties from Beijing, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Guangdong, Yunnan and other provinces and cities.


PEP was genuinely afraid of screwing up a second time.

Students, teachers, parents, and other groups were given questionnaires to gain further insight into their opinions.

After the illustrations were drawn, the textbook underwent the three-review process once more. It was reviewed numerous times and repeatedly polished, and it was finally completed after seven revisions.

The old criticisms were really taken to heart.

Image: weibo.com

When the PEP was showing the new illustrations to the public, it stated that the primary school mathematics textbook illustrations exhibited the special characteristics of “the breath of China”, “contemporary style”, “an energetic feeling” and “mathematics flavour”.

It showcased the new era of Chinese youths with their sunny dispositions and progressiveness. They possessed uplifting and happy mental outlooks, conformed with the mainstream aesthetics, took into account the natural development of a child’s cognitive, physical and mental abilities.

All in all, they looked fresh and upright, clean and easy-mannered, fitting seamlessly with the page and contents.

This description above is real, by the way.

After the PEP incident, the CMOE also conducted a comprehensive investigation and rectification of illustrations and contents in the teaching materials of primary and secondary school textbooks and extracurricular readings.

Nearly 350 experts were called in to review the teaching materials.

359 sets out of 2,487 national curriculum textbooks were randomly selected for the review.

Furthermore, the CMOE and various provincial education administrative departments also conducted spot checks. If there were any problems found, the editing and publishing houses were ordered to complete the revisions in a timely manner.

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Featured Image: Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报